Comrade Stalin's Three Plans
The fact is that Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union at dawn on June 22, 1941 became a horrible surprise for Comrade Stalin. Stalin didn’t believe in the possibility of events unfolding this way. Even on the evening of June 21, when coded messages from the border district headquarters to Moscow, informed that the Germans were taking down the barbed wire at the border and that the din of tank engines was vibrating in the air – even then Comrade Stalin doubted the credibility of the messages. Moreover, on the morning of June 22, it took several hours for Stalin to finally accept the reality.
Soviet radio aired joyful weekend music and broadcast reports about agricultural achievements while radio stations around the world broadcast statements from Hitler and Ribbentrop. The foreign minister of fascist Italy unsuccessfully searched for the Soviet ambassador until noon in order to hand him an official note bearing a declaration of war: on Sunday, a Soviet diplomat liked to enjoy the beach. The charge d’affaires of the United Kingdom, Baggalay (British ambassador Stafford Cripps at that point had already de facto been shown the door out of Moscow), couldn’t get a meeting with Molotov until noon, while Vyshinskiy, the deputy to the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, haughtily refused to discuss any questions concerning Great Britain’s aid to the Soviet Union, citing an absence of guidelines.
Germany’s attack astonished the inhabitants of the Kremlin’s offices, stunning them and putting them into a state of shock. That is the fact.
There is another fact. In May-June of 1941 the Soviet Union’s military forces were in a state of covert strategic deployment. All aspects of strategic deployment (mobilization of reservists, strategic regrouping and concentration of troops, operative deployment of alignments) were carried out in a strict secrecy unheard of even by Stalin’s harsh standards.
The western districts’ troops were moving towards the border at night and hiding in the forests during the day; large units from internal districts were redeployed westward in railway cars, windows shut with plywood. Moreover, the destination (not to mention the goal of regrouping and the operational mission) was unknown even to those units’ commanders. Reservists were drafted by personal notices under the guise of “training musters.” Up until the last minute, the USSR’s government expressed no complaints about the concentration of German troops near its border. Moreover, TASS, the official mouthpiece of the Soviet government, on June 14 disseminated a conciliatory declaration: “No war between the USSR and Germany is foreseen. The parties are keeping strictly to the terms of the Non-Aggression Pact: the rumors about some approaching war are clumsily cooked-up propaganda from forces hostile to the USSR and Germany.”
In June, 1941 the Soviet Union was preparing for broad-scale military action, but it tried to conceal its preparation by all possible means. That’s the second fact.
Historians have been faced with the task of combining these two facts and interpreting them in a way that is internally consistent. To put it simply, there’s one single question that has to be clarified: if Stalin didn’t expect the German invasion, then why were thousands of military trains headed towards the border, and why were the front commands being created on the basis of the border districts' headquarters? And why on June 19, two days prior to the German attack that Stalin wasn’t expecting, did those front commands start moving towards the field command points, in accordance to the orders from Moscow?
Twenty years ago Viktor Suvorov gave a detailed answer to this question. He assumed – and supported his assumption with the open Soviet publications that were at his disposal – that Stalin was preparing for war. He was always preparing, from the very first day he gained power. Collectivization, industrialization, the Great Terror –those were just difference faces of Comrade Stalin’s multifaceted work towards turning the Country of the Soviets into a gigantic military camp and dividing the builders of communism into two categories: the workforce and the cannon fodder. In August, 1939 Stalin made a final decision to support Hitler, to support him the same way in which the noose supports the hanged man. Stalin helped Hitler to start the war against the coalition of Western countries (Great Britain, France, and their allies) in order that the exterminatory struggle would destroy Europe and allow Stalin’s armies to march over its ashes in triumph. In June, 1941 the preparations for this march were interrupted by the invasion by the Wehrmacht, a surprise for a Stalin who was blinded by his delusions of grandeur.
Viktor Suvorov’s hypothesis also bore that main characteristic of the genuine scientific theory, which is this: new facts and documents fit within its boundaries the same way cartridges fit in a pistol clip. New facts fit his theory with precision and clarity, without violating its structure, but rather enhancing its lethal power. P. Bobylev, T. Bushueva, V. Danilov, V. Kiselev, M. Meltyukhov, V. Nevezhin, I. Pavlova, M. Solonin, Y. Felshtinskiy, J. Hoffmann, H. Magenheimer, W. Maser, B. Musial, R. Raack, S. Scheil, E. Topitsch, E. Mawdsley – that’s an incomplete list of the Russian and foreign historians whose works cite hundreds of documents and facts that support V. Suvorov’s hypothesis and transfer it from the category of hypothesis to the ranks of scientifically established truth. (Despite the political correctness that’s currently the trend, I believe that the truth does exist, and that the goal of historian is to look for it instead of just writing narratives.)
On the other hand, no alternative concepts were formulated in the 20 years after The Icebreaker was published. There was not a single book or a single article. No one tried even once to promote a different explanation or interpretation of the two fundamental facts that I described earlier.
“I don’t need a critique. I need a version.” This phrase, left by an anonymous reader on one of the countless Internet forums, most accurately describes the present state the Nazi-Soviet War historiography. There was no, and there still is no, alternative to Suvorov’s hypothesis/version.
The deafening silence of the Russia's official military historians isn’t just a sign of agreement with Suvorov’s hypothesis. It’s a white flag of surrender. Having herds of taxpayer-supported personel and all the Russian archives at their disposal for 20 years, they still couldn’t give the public one document that would prove Stalin’s peaceful intentions.
While discussion about the general orientation of Stalin’s military and political plans can be considered at present to beconcluded, the question of the scheduled deadlines for the beginning of his invasion of Europe remains open. That’s not surprising: Soviet and Russian “historical science” put maximum effort into concealing and distorting information associated with this problem. Let us not forget that the clarification of concrete plans and terms is in principle impossible without access to the mass of documents of the USSR’s highest military and political command, a mass that remains absolutely inaccessible to any independent researcher.
As it will be demonstrated further on, those plans changed THREE times, and the intricate webbing of informational fragments pertaining to three of Stalin’s plans, which were quite different in terms of intention, creates an extremely difficult task for historians. Those who believe that discussing a hard-to-prove hypothesis is a waste of time have no need to read this article any further. I’m asking all remaining readers to accept the presence of words that are disappointing to me as well – words such as “possibly,” “most likely,” “probably,” “it is not excluded,” and “it is possible to assume.”
Stalin’s first and original plan was the most simple and logical. Actually, you all know it, as it was described in textbooks: the plan was “to use acute inter-imperialistic contradictions in the USSR’s interest.” That is exactly how it was, but with one important specification. Contradictions can be used in various ways to achieve different goals. Comrade Stalin decided that the USSR’s interest lay not in fighting for peace in the entire world, but in fomenting a ruinous protracted war in Europe. Based on quite authentic documents, we can see that exactly this kind of decision was made. Stalin quite clearly expressed the main goals of his foreign policy all the way back to September 2, 1935, in a letter to Molotov and Kaganovich:
"The old Entente no longer exists. Instead, there are two Ententes emerging: the entente between Italy and France, on the one hand, and the entente between Britain and Germany, on the other. The more violent the fight between the two, the better it is for the USSR. We can sell grain to both of them so they can fight. It is not at all in our benefit if one instantly destroys the other. It’s beneficial for us if their fight is as long-lasting as possible, but without the fast victory of one over the other.”
This is a peculiar document. The Great Provocateur’s method of thinking is very clear.
At the end of the summer of 1939 the general idea started getting implemented in concrete actions (the pact with Germany; the secret protocol about the division of areas of influence in Eastern Europe; the joint operation with the Wehrmacht to defeat Poland). The actions are well-known to us. What were their meanings and goals? Again, let’s go back to citing the documents:
- “The war is taking place between two groups of capitalist countries…We don’t mind them having a good fight and weakening each other. It wouldn’t be bad if by Hitler’s hands the foundation of the richest capitalist countries (England in particular) were shaken. Hitler, without knowing or wanting it, is unbalancing and undermining the capitalist system... We can maneuver and push one party against another so they fight better. The Non-Aggression Pact is to some extent helping Germany. The next moment will involve prodding the other party…”
- “If we sign a mutual aid pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will give up Poland and start looking for a modus vivendi with the Western countries. War will be prevented, but in the future, events might take a turn that will be dangerous for the USSR. If we accept Germany’s proposition to sign a non-aggression pact with it, it will certainly attack Poland, and the intervention of France and England in this war will become inevitable. Western Europe will be subjected to serious disturbances and unrest… Everything should be done to make this war last as long as possible in order to exhaust both sides… Adhering to the position of neutrality and waiting for its moment, the USSR will be helping today’s Germany, supplying it with raw materials and food products…”
- “... If the USSR had concluded a treaty with the Western Powers, Germany would never have unleashed a war from which will develop world revolution which we have been preparing for a long time… By having concluded a treaty with us, Hitler blocked his own way into other states. Economically, he depends upon us alone and we shall direct his economy in such a way as to drive the belligerent countries into revolution. A long war will cause revolution in Germany and France. We will supply the Germans so that they will still be hungry….… As a result of the economic treaties he opened our route into Reich. His war will exhaust Europe which then will fall in our lap. The peoples will accept any regime which will follow after the war.”
- “There, in the West, the three biggest countries are at each other’s throats; when is the time to resolve the Leningrad issue if not under such conditions, when [their] hands are busy and we’ve been granted a favorable setting for striking them at this particular moment?… They are at war out there, but the war itself is sort of a weak one; it’s unclear whether they’re fighting or just playing cards. What if they suddenly make peace, which is not excluded...”
The authenticity of texts #1 and #4 doesn’t generate the slightest doubts. They are from, respectively, a recording of Stalin’s words at a meeting with Dimitrov and others on September 7, 1939 (exactly a week after the war commenced) and from his speech at the closing meeting of the Conference of the Red Army’s highest-ranked officers on April 17, 1940. The first transcript was compiled by G. Dimitrov and is currently being kept at RGASPI (the Russian State Archive of Social-Political History, formerly the Archive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union). In September, Stalin expresses his optimistic expectations (“We can maneuver and push one party against another so they fight better”), while in April hints of worry start to appear (“What if they suddenly make peace, which is not excluded...”), but the general idea remains unchanged.
It is much harder to assess the authenticity of texts #2 and #3. Number 2 is the so-called “Stalin’s speech at the meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee on August 19, 1939.” It was published the first time by the French agency Havas on November 28, 1939. The variant that I’ve cited was published by the Russian historian T. Bushueva in 1994. This text is a three-times trophy document: Bushueva found it at the Center for Storage of Historical-Documentary Collections (formerly the Special Archive); it had belonged to the French General Staff which allegedly seized in from French Communists, then the Germans captured it from the French General Staff, and finally it had been taken from the Germans by the Red Army.
No one ever saw a genuine transcript of “Stalin’s speech from August 19”; there is no solid basis to assert that such a speech was delivered. In the "Politburo’s Special files” (or, to put it more precisely, in something that RGASPI offered to the public under that name), only one resolution refers to the date August 19, and the issue it pertains to is utterly unimportant (it treats a draft deferment for workers building the Akmolinsk-Kartaly railroad). It looks strange enough. In 1939 the Politburo was issuing on average (including holidays and weekends) eight resolutions a day. August, 1939 was a very busy time: they would be reviewing about 20 matters a day (one should take into account that there were very few meetings, as such: the decisions that Stalin made in a narrow circle of “comrades” selected by him were simply registered as “Politburo resolutions”). Is it really true that on August 19 the Politburo limited itself to reviewing only one issue of the third degree of importance?
It’s hardly worth arguing that the “French document” (let’s call it that) is not a verbatim report, but rather a paraphrasing of something distorted by multiple translation. The translation of what, exactly, is still to be determined, but the obvious semantic similarity to Dimitrov’s transcript jumps out at the reader, as they say.
In my opinion, document #3 (the “Czech document”) is much more interesting and authentic. This is a report by a group of Czech anti-fascists about the meeting that they had in October, 1939 with A. Alexandrov, head of the Central-European Department of the USSR People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. The document was passed to the US General Consulate in Prague and then lay happily in the State Department’s archive all the way until 1978, when J. Kalvoda, an American historian of Czech descent, first published it. The main advantage of the “Czech document” is the exactly registered dates: the text was received by the General Counselor in Prague on November 17, 1939 and translated into English on November 20. This is a very important moment: the document that almost word for word repeats the formulations in the so-called “Stalin’s speech” was composed BEFORE Havas’ publication on November 28.
If we substitute for the ritual word “revolution” (inevitable in conversations within the Comintern) other words, ones that are much more adequate to the situation, such as “devastation, chaos, and anarchy,” Stalin’s plan appears before us in all its beauty. In the fall of 1939 it was precisely Germany that Stalin saw as the weakest party in the conflict; it was precisely Germany that he decided to provide with various political, psychological, and economic assistance in order to prevent the coveted pan-European war from ending at its very beginning due to Germany’s swift defeat.
But if the general geopolitical plan was simple and clear, the military-strategic component of Stalin’s “Plan #1” was, we can see, dubious and uncertain. Where and in which operational directions was “socialism’s world front” to be broadened?
There exists an amazing document (amazing mainly because it was not destroyed on time) preserved in the depths of the Russian state military archive. On March 5, 1940, Osetrov, high-ranking NKVD officer, wrote an internal memorandum to Voroshilov, the People’s Commissar for Defense:
“On January 31, in a regional Red Army House, the commander of the forces of the Siberian military district Kalinin, gave a report on the international situation… Kalinin declared the inevitability of a major war in the spring of 1940, a war in which the USSR will stand in alliance with Germany, Japan, and Italy against the Anglo-French alliance …Military actions with England, France, and their allies will have a protracted character…”
In the last lines of this internal memo the deputy head of the NKVD’s chief draws an incredibly strange conclusion: “Many commanders believe that Comrade Kalinin’s speech was dubious and that highlighting the international situation in such a manner is politically harmful.”
It is possible to assume that on March 5, 1940 Comrade Osetrov didn’t know for sure what the right way was to “highlight the international situation” and with whom and against whom the Soviet Union would go to war. Just in case, however, he decided to inform Voroshilov and take all the responsibility off his own back. Judging from the consequences – on June 4, 1940, S. Kalinin was promoted to lieutenant-general and then happily continued commanding his district – his report before the Red Army commanders with its open declarations about the “inevitability” of war “against the Anglo-French alliance,” and in union with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, was not at all perceived as an evil slander against the invariably peace-loving USSR’s foreign policy.
On May 11, 1940, division commissar (rank of brigadier-general) Shabalin wrote to Mekhlis (the head of the Red Army Main Political Administration). In the memo he, with great anxiety, reminds his readers about the “the necessity of thoroughly revising the organization of the Red Army’s units and formations through the prism of their readiness to wage a war in the Middle Eastern theater.”
On June 21, 1940 Colonel-General Pavlov reported to the People’s Commissar for Defense, Marshal Timoshenko, his opinion about the possible use of the military forces of the three annexed Baltic countries: “After the purges of officers and the reinforcement of units with our Communist members, I concede the possibility of using in the nearest future the Lithuanian and Estonian army units for war – outside of the BSMD [Belorussian Special Military District], for example, – against the Romanians, Afghans, and Japanese.” In the "nearest future…"
On August 20, 1940 the head of the Red Army House in Bryansk (a mid-rank political administrator) delivered an instruction “On the International Situation” in which he said in particular: “We will take all measures so that England and Germany definitely fight…Let them shoot and then we’ll see how the situation works out and where it is better to start [emphasis mine]. We will not overlook our interests. The question of the Dardanelles and Bosporus will be resolved in the upcoming days.”
Colonel Arman (Tiltins), a veteran of the war in Spain and one of the first Heroes of the Soviet Union (he was awarded on January 31, 1936), while a student at the Military Academy in Moscow made a speech in the fall of 1940 in which he said the following: “Finland will be Soviet. The USSR’s borders could be on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. If the Indians say they are brothers of the Slavs and want to live together [with us], we won’t object to that…”
Not only Soviet generals but also admirals were preparing for war with England. In the “Note of the commander of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet concerning the operation plan for the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet” (the document was compiled no earlier than March 27, 1940), we read: “The possible enemy is: England, France, Romania, and Turkey. The Air Force’s tasks are: to attack boats in the waters of the Sea of Marmora and Bosporus strait and install mine barriers in the Bosporus…”
The report of the chief commander of the Black Sea Fleet’s Air Force to the Main Naval Headquarters about the development plan for the Black Sea Fleet’s air force for 1940-1941 stipulated the following:
“The tasks for aviation per theaters of military action:
- Black Sea. Infliction of powerful bombing strikes on the bases in Constanta, Ismail, and Varna.
- Aegean Sea: Salonika and Smyrna.
- Mediterranean Sea: Alexandria, Haifa, Suez Canal, Malta, and Brindisi…
By the means of systematic attacks on the Suez Canal deprive England and the Mediterranean countries of the possibility of normally exploiting this communications line…”
In the same spring months of 1940, the Main Administration of the Red Army Air Force prepared a 19-page document under the following name: “Description of Indian routes #1 (the Barochil and Chitral passes) and #4 (the Killio, Gilchit, and Srinagor passes). There was also a 34-page “List of military-industrial objects” of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and India. Almost all of the listed countries were colonies or semi-colonies of Great Britain and France.
The significant attention paid to the southern theater did not at all mean that the European north was forgotten about at Soviet headquarters. For example, Rear Admiral Y. Panteleev, chief of headquarters of the Baltic Sea Fleet, in his internal memo to the Chief Naval Headquarters of July 5, 1940, proposed the following:
“There [should be] seizure of the Aland Islands in each of the circumstances in the Baltics, and immediately so… The offensive of our land forces to the north of Hanko base and to the west of Vyborg [to translate from Russian to Russian, this means an attack on Helsinki – Author]…Immediately, in this very year, we should obtain the Aland Islands and the possibility of real control over all the Finnish bases in the Gulf of Finland by all means necessary, right up to war.”
The commander of the Baltic Sea Fleet’s squadron, Rear Admiral N. Nesvitskiy, kept up with his superior. On July 10 he sent a memo to the General Naval Headquarters proposing to “resolve the question of the independent existence of Sweden and Finland to the USSR’s benefit and make the Baltic Sea an internal sea.”
The preparation to implement these impressive plans was conducted in different areas, including military intelligence. That, for example, is what Captain Semishin, head of the intelligence department at the Baltic Fleet’s Air Force headquarters, wrote to Major Klimashin:
“[I hereby] report the condition of the intelligence preparation of the Baltic Fleet Air Force headquarters as of August 1, 1940… The target profiles are being opened and updated with incoming material; in particular, the Stockholm object was duplicated in 20 copies and sent to the units. The objects Kalmar and Karlskrona are under development. The Air Force has a total 270 target profiles; among them are 91 in Sweden, 90 in Germany, and 36 in Finland.”
On August 14, Major Klimashin sent Captain Semishin the following instructions: “By September 1, 1940, report on which targets in Finland and Sweden have profiles open and whether they [the profiles] had been conveyed to all regiments [emphasis mine]. At the same time, report on whether you have received the ‘Stockholm’ object from the intelligence department of the Baltic Sea Fleet and what its shortcomings are. Speed up the processing of the profiles in order to finish it in the nearest future.”
It is understood that the air force was not the only, and not even the main, instrument for “solving the question of the independent existence of Sweden” or for blocking the Suez Canal. We forget the grandiose program for building the Navy, the realization of which started at the end of the 1930s in the USSR. In 1938 the decision was made to build, within 10 years, 15 (!!!) battleships, 35 heavy cruisers, 20 light cruisers, and 145 destroyers. Later this program was slightly cut back: the project was to build in seven years “only” six battleships, 21 light cruisers, and 98 destroyers.
Nearly half of the list of military machinery, equipment, and armaments purchased in 1939-1940 in Germany consists of multiple types of naval artillery (including special corrosion-proof guns for submarines), mine and torpedo armaments, hydro-acoustic devices, on-deck scouting planes, and catapults for launching them. There were also propeller shafts and turbine spindles, diesel engines for ships and, finally, the newest cruiser, the "Lutsov", built in German shipyard and completed in Leningrad.
Of the 25 billion rubles assigned in 1940 according to the plan for armament procurements and war-related equipment, almost a quarter (5.8 billion) was assigned to the People's Commissariat for the Navy. The estimated cost of one battleship like the Sovetskiy Soyuz (“project 23”) in 1940 was assessed as 1.18 million rubles. Keeping in mind the fact that, in the environment of the Soviet anti-market economy, “price” was a conditional concept, we should note that one "Sovetskiy Soyuz" should have cost the budget the equivalent of 80,000 45-mm anti-tank guns or 3,000 medium T-34 tanks, or 3,200 SB light bombers. Luckily, building battleships consumed only a miserable 600 million rubles (excluding R&D expenses). In June, 1941 all work towards building battleships and heavy cruisers was immediately stopped and the ships’ hulls were preserved: those cyclopean monsters were absolutely unfit for war against Germany.
At the beginning of the world war the great naval country of Great Britain was armed with 58 submarines. Germany had 57, Italy had 68, and Japan had 63. The USSR, that gigantic continental country, was armed with 267 submarines (although not in September, 1939, but in June, 1941). The question is: this gigantic underwater fleet was meant for effecting the sea blockade of which country?
Some air force historians (V. Belokon, A. Stepanov) have noticed the obvious “anti-British” direction of the Soviet Air Force’s development at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s. Despite having in serial production and among the fighting forces’ armaments DB-3f bombers capable of flying 3,300 km with a one-ton bomb load (the German best at that time, the He-111, had a flight range of no more than 2,700 km), Stalin set a goal for his designers in January, 1939: to design a bomber with a 5,000 km flight range. For what? Which frontier were “Stalin’s falcons” supposed to reach? It is 1,000 km from Minsk to Berlin, 1,200 from Minsk to Hamburg, 1,400 km from Kiev to Munich, and 1,200 from Vladivostok to Tokyo. The DB-3f’s range was sufficient for bombing any of the indicated targets. But bombing the British Isles would indeed require a bomber with a significantly wider flight range (it is 1,900 km from Minsk to London and 2,000 km from Minsk to Manchester).
All these martial ideas and sweet dreams about turning the Baltic into an “internal sea” and about the Himalayan passes on the route to the Indian Ocean were completely routed in the summer of 1940. Within one month, France was defeated. The British Expeditionary Corps barely escaped leaving heaps of heavy arms in the coastal sand of Dunkirk. With breathtaking speed, the newborn Wehrmacht was turning into the most powerful army in the world. The greater part of continental Western Europe appeared to be under Hitler’s control. This shocking reality forced Stalin to drastically change his strategic war plan.
Plan #2 was a plan for war against Germany.
Unlike Plan #1, the contents of which can only be guessed at based on separate bits of information, Plan #2 can be reconstructed today in detail. In the first half of the 1990s the following documents were declassified and published:
- An internal memo by the People’s Commissar for Defense and the head of the Red Army General Staff to J. Stalin and V. Molotov “On the principles of strategic deployment of the USSR’s military forces in the west and east”; it has no register number and was sent no later than August 16, 1940.
- A document with an analogous name, but this time with a register number (#103202) and with an exact date of signing (September 18, 1940).
- An internal memo from the People’s Commissar for Defense and head of the Red Army General Staff to J. Stalin and V. Molotov, register # 103313. (The document starts with the words, “For your approval [I] report the main conclusions based on your instructions of September 5, 1940 while reviewing the plans for the strategic deployment of the USSR’s military forces in 1941,” for which reason this document is usually named “the specified October plan for strategic deployment.”);
- An internal memo from the chief of the Kiev Special Military District about the operational deployment plan for 1940; no register number; composed no later than December, 1940.
- An internal memo from the People’s Commissar for Defense and the head of the Red Army General Staff to J. Stalin and V. Molotov at the Central Committee on “The specified plan for strategic deployment of the USSR’s military forces in the west and east”; no register number; dated March 11, 1940.
- A directive from the People’s Commissar for Defense and the head of the Red Army General Staff to the commander of the forces of the Western Special Military District to develop an operational deployment plan for the district’s forces; no register number; dated April, 1941.
- An internal memo by the People’s Commissar for Defense and the head of the Red Army General Staff to J. Stalin and V. Molotov "Considerations for the strategic deployment plan for the Soviet Union’s military forces in case of war with Germany and its allies"; no register number; dated May 15, 1941.
Strictly speaking, there is plenty of information to study. Five variants of the general plan for the Red Army’s strategic deployment and materials for operational plans for the two most important military grouping – the Southwestern front (Kiev Special Military District) and the Western front (Western Special Military District) – are at historians’ disposal.
What conclusions can we draw based on the available documents?
Firstly, an operational plan against Germany did exist, and work on that plan went on for many months – from at least August, 1940, with no consideration of the Non-Aggression Pact.
Secondly, starting in August, 1940 the strategic deployment plans mentioned earlier no longer name Great Britain as a potential enemy of the USSR; Germany is constantly named the main enemy, with potential support to be provided to it by Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Finland.
Thirdly, all of the currently declassified plans for the Red Army’s strategic deployment present practically the same document, which changes slightly from one version to another. At issue is not only the semantic, but also the textual, similarity of all the plans. Without exception, the documents present the description of a plan for the preparation and carrying out of a strategic offensive operation beyond the USSR’s state borders. All the geographic names in the theater of stipulated military action that were used in the documents are names of East Prussian, Polish, and Slovak cities and rivers:
1. “In cooperation with the Fourth Army of the Western Front, to inflict a resolute defeat on the enemy’s Lublin-Sandomir grouping and approach the Vistula River. Further on, inflict an assault in the directions of Kielce-Piotrkow and Krakow, to capture the region of Kielce-Piotrkow and approach the Pilica River and the upper portion of the Oder River…”
2. “The closest strategic task is the defeat, in cooperation with the Fourth Army of the Western Front, of Germany’s military forces in the regions of Lublin, Tomaszow, Kielce, Radom and Rzeszow, Jaslo, Krakow and the approach, on the thirtieth day of the operation, to the front of the Pilica River, Piotrkow, Oppeln, Nejshtadt, cutting off Germany from its southern allies…
3.The main forces of the Southwestern Front in collaboration with the left flank of the Western Front should strike and decisively defeat the enemy’s Lublin-Radom-Sandomir-Krakow grouping; [they should] force a crossing over the Vistula, take over Krakow and Warsaw, and reach the Warsaw, Lodz, Krejcburg, Oppeln front…”
4. “With the Southwestern Front armies taking the offensive, have the left wing assault in the general direction of Siedlec and Radom, assisting the Southwestern Front in destroying the enemy’s Lublin-Radom grouping. The nearest task of the front is to take over the Siedlec and Lukov regions and the Vistula crossings; in the future, consider the actions in the Radom region in order to complete the encirclement of the enemy’s Lublin grouping in collaboration with the Southwestern Front…”
5. “The main strike of the Southwestern Front forces should be targeted towards Krakow and Katowice, cutting Germany off from its southern allies; the auxiliary strike of the left wing of the Western Front should be applied towards Siedlec and Deblin for the purpose of paralyzing the Warsaw grouping and assisting the Southwestern Front in defeating the enemy’s Lublin grouping…”
These excerpts are quotes from five different documents (military plans). The obvious similarity (even of the details) in all the variations of the plan for the strategic offensive operation conducted to the west of the USSR’s state border shows the incorrectness of formulations such a: “Zhukov’s plan,” “Zhukov’s May plan,” etc…The plan for the Red Army’s strategic deployment could only and exclusively be “Stalin’s plan.” In the period from August, 1940 to May, 1941, Timoshenko, the People’s Commissar for Defense, and three subsequent chiefs of the General Staff – Shaposhnikov, Meretskov, and Zhukov – worked on developing different versions of this plan.
Fourthly, only the August (1940) document makes the choice of direction for the deployment of the Red Army’s main forces dependant on the enemy’s probable plans. (“Believing that the Germans’ main strike will be directed towards the north of the San River’s mouth, it is necessary to have the Red Army’s main forces deployed towards the north of Polessie as well… Our military forces’ main task is defeating the German forces being concentrated in East Prussia and in the Warsaw region …”). With some stretch, this one could be called “planning a counterstrike.” All the subsequent variants of the Red Army’s strategic deployment plan establish the geography of the planned military action from the point of view of the military and political advantages for the attacking Red Army.
After extensive discussion (on October 3, 4, and 5, Timoshenko and Meretskov spent 3.5 hours each day in the Master’s study), report memo #103313 was originated. The document starts with the following words: “I report for your confirmation the main conclusions from your instructions as given on October 5, 1940…” The main conclusions were formulated in the following manner:
“To have the main grouping within the Southwestern Front, so that [its] powerful strike in the direction of Lublin and Krakow and further towards Breslau [today Wroclaw, Poland] would cut off Germany from the Balkan countries in the first stage of the war, deprive it of extremely important economic bases, and decisively influence the Balkan countries in the matter of their participation in the war…”
The September strategic deployment plan (along with additions and specifications from October 5) is a very extensive document (of more than 6,700 words). It describes in detail the grouping of the Soviet forces, the order and terms of these forces’ concentration, the Air Force’s structure and tasks, and operational plans for primary operations detailed on the level of the fronts. It is possible to assume that the commanders of the border military districts (future fronts) had been familiarized with the document. This assumption is based on the notion that no later than December, 1940 a very detailed “Plan for Southwestern Front Deployment” was developed at the Kiev Military District headquarters. As should have been expected, the operational deployment plan for the Southwestern Front quite corresponded with the Big Plan:
On March 11, 1940 Timoshenko and Zhukov presented to Stalin yet another “Adjusted plan of the USSR’s military forces’ strategic deployment in the west and east.” The March (1941) variant of the Big Plan did not drastically differ from the previous two. This time, again, the choice of the direction for the main assault is governed exclusively by offensive considerations:
“The deployment of the Red Army’s main forces in the west with the concentration of main forces against East Prussia and in the Warsaw direction raises serious concerns that the fighting on this front will lead to protracted combat and tie up our main forces, and will not provide the necessary and prompt effect…
“It would be most beneficial to deploy our main forces to the south of the Pripyat River and by powerful assaults on Lublin, Radom, and in the direction of Krakow defeat the main German forces and, in the primary stage of the war, cut Germany off from the Balkan countries …”
The March variant is interesting mostly because after the description of “the first strategic task” (an offensive against Krakow-Katowice ), it contains directions for other strikes:
“The next strategic target for the Red Army’s main forces, depending on the situation, can be established as following: develop an operation through Poznan towards Berlin, or operate to the southwest towards Prague and Vienna, or strike in the north towards Torun and Danzig, aiming to get around East Prussia…”
No one has yet found any other plans for the Red Army’s strategic deployment, except these. With all the Russian archives at their disposal, Suvorov’s opponents have not, in the past 18 years, managed to present to the world a single document in which the beginning (only the beginning!) of the Soviet-German war was being planned in the form of a strategic defensive operation on Soviet territory.
At the beginning of January, 1941, the major ideas and solutions for the operational plan for war against Germany and its allies were worked out in the process of two operational-strategic map games. These games were conducted by the General Staff under the general supervision of the People’s Commissar for Defense, Marshal Timoshenko. Four marshals and 49 generals, deputies of the People’s Commissar for Defense and of the chief of the General Staff, commanders and chiefs of the headquarters of western military districts participated in these “games.” In other words: all of the Red Army’s top command staff and all those who in the near future would lead troops in combat.
For more than half a century, the materials of the January (1941) operational strategic games were hidden behind a top secret classification. There were two games. In the first, the “northern variant” was worked out: dealing the main strike from the Belostok prominence and Lithuania in the direction of East Prussia. Virtual “military actions” were performed on the enemy’s territory; the “easterners” reached Allenstein (now Olsztyn, Poland) and Rastenburg (now Kętrzyn). In general, the set offensive tasks were carried out (they did not succeed either in encircling the main “westerners” forces or in reaching the Vistula and Danzig). The offensive, on woody and swampy territory got bogged down. The game proved once more the hopelessness of the strategic offensive operation’s “northern variant.”
The “southern version” had been played in the second game; it had already been accepted and in October of 1940 it was approved as the main one (by the way, the “easterners” group was significantly larger in the second game than it had been in the first one). After deploying main forces in the Lvov prominence, within five weeks the “easterners” had to approach the front of Vistula River, Krakow, Budapest, Timisoara, and Craiova; that is, in the course of the offensive operation they had to move 250-300 km depthwise and take over southern Poland, Slovakia, and a major part of Hungary and Romania.
The second (“southern”) “game” deserves particular attention for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the legend of the game, all the minimal “fig leaves” meant to demonstrate peaceableness were shed away. The offensive of the “easterners” did not even start from the border, but from the Rzeszow-Tarnow region which was already deep inside the Reich-controlled land.
Secondly, (and this is extremely important for understanding how Stalin and his entourage estimated the Red Army’s fighting capacity at this point), the “easterners” were involved in simultaneously solving four (!) large-scale tasks during the course of the game: defeating the enemy’s main forces in the Krakow-Katowice region, effecting a deep breakthrough towards Budapest, carrying on a stubborn defense in two directions against the enemy’s counterstrikes (towards Kovel and Stryi), and encircling the shock troops of the “westerners,” forcing a crossing over the Dnestr. The “easterners” performed all these tasks brilliantly, yielding to the enemy in terms of number of infantry divisions (81 against 100) and having a quite modest (by 30%) superiority in terms of air force. (Only in terms of the number of tanks did the “easterners” have a significant – a threefold – advantage.)
Thirdly, the chronology of the “game” was set up in a quite notable fashion! The game did not involve a “first,” “second,” or “tenth” day. Rather, the chronology was from August 8 to August 20, and not just any August, but August, 1941. This fact – the establishing of a concrete year – looks strange enough. If establishing a concrete month can be explained by the fact that, in planning virtual “combat actions,” it was necessary to properly consider natural conditions, climatic conditions, daylight hours, and sunset and sunrise times, then what was an actual year needed for?
Here we approach one of the most difficult questions in the prehistory of the Nazi-Soviet war. While the idea of an immense offensive operation is clear and discussion only to clarifies particular details, it does not seem possible, based on declassified documents, to find the exact planned date of the Red Army’s offensive operations.
Big questions arise from the report memo of March 11, 1941 (“Adjusted plan for strategic deployment of the USSR’s military forces in the west and east”). On the back of page 27 in small, accurate handwriting (presumably by Vatutin, deputies of the chief of the General Staff ), is written: “Commence the attack 12.6.” The phrase is in no way connected with the context (it appears after a description of a task set for the “left flank of the main grouping of the Southwestern Front”) and, in general, seems inappropriate to a document, where all chronological marks are expressed in relative dates connected with the first day of the operation (“on the third day of the operation, using the mobile units, take over Sedlec, and on the fifth day of the operation with crossings on the Vistula River…”).
“There are two wills on the battlefield,” the old Russian saying goes. The dramatic development of the events of the world war did not allow Stalin to prepare for the war in Europe substantially in a sensible way, with the proper arrangements. Sometime in the spring of 1941 they realized in Moscow that they would succeed in striking first only if the Red Army began its offensive no later than August-September, 1941. The top military and political command of the Soviet Union was forced to urgently adjust its earlier-developed plans according to this new reality.
Strictly speaking, the new “Stalin's third plan” did not, from the point of view of operational intent, differ at all from Plan # 2. Large-scale offensive operation was still planned beyond the USSR’s state borders. The May (1941) “Considerations for the plan for strategic deployment” document fully repeats all the prior variants of the war plan against Germany in terms of tasks, main strike directions, terms, and frontiers. In the text of the “Considerations” there appears only one new aspect, but it is very meaningful: “Germany has the possibility to forestall us in deployment and make a sudden strike.” That is exactly why the plan’s developers insist, “by no means give the initiative for action to the German command, forestall the enemy and attack the German army at the moment when it is going to be in the deployment stage and will have insufficient time to organize the front and the interaction of all arms of the service.”
Let me stress again that there are grounds for discussing the particular “aggressiveness” of the May version (1941) of the “Considerations”: the attempt to go ahead of the enemy and not give him the “initiative for action” under any circumstances represents only an elementary demand of common sense and the basics of the art of operations. The benefit of a first strike is too important to give it away voluntarily to the enemy. What’s drastically new is that in May, 1941 the Soviet command was not that certain that they would succeed in pulling it off, so they asked Stalin to perform without delay all the necessary undertakings “without which it is impossible to launch an immediate strike on the enemy both from the air and from the ground.”
On May 24, 1941, elderly Count Schulenburg, the German ambassador in Moscow, sent to Berlin such report: "The fact that this (Stalin`s) external policy is primarily dedicated to prevention of conflict with Germany is proven by the position that the Soviet government has taken in recent weeks, by the tone of the Soviet press, which reviews all events related to Germany in a form that does not generate objections, and by the observance of economic agreements.”
On the same day, May 24, 1941, an hours-long meeting took place in Stalin’s office. The following people participated in it besides Stalin:
- Molotov, deputy head of the government and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs
- Timoshenko, People’s Commissar for Defense
- Zhukov, Head of the General Staff
- Vatutin, Head of the Operational Department of the General Staff
- Zhigarev, Head of the Red Army Air Force
- The commanders of forces of the five western border districts and the commanders of the Air Force in those districts.
There were no other representative meetings of the military and political command of the USSR, neither for several months before May 24 nor after that date all the way until the beginning of the war.
Nothing else is known up to this date. Official Soviet (and, equally, contemporary Russian) historiography has not dropped a word about the discussion and decisions made on May 24. Those few participants in that meeting who lived after Stalin’s death said nothing about it in their memoirs. The "Special Files" declassified at the beginning of the twentieth-first century, bearing protocols of Politburo meetings dated May 1941, also fail to contain the slightest mentions of this meeting. Only Marshal Vasilevskiy, in a handwritten copy of a newspaper article that lay quiet in an archive for almost 27 years, remembers, “A few weeks prior to the attack of fascist Germany – I cannot say the exact date, unfortunately – the General Staff passed all the documentation concerning the district operational plans to the command and headquarters of the corresponding military districts.”
Assuming that Vasilevskiy’s memory didn’t fail him, and that it was precisely in the course of the meeting of May 24, 1941 that the concrete content of the operational war plan was given “in the part that concerned them” to the actual performers, that is, to the command of the border military districts (the future fronts), the range of “possible dates” of the beginning of the operation narrows down to two months: from the middle of July through the end of August 1941.
Let us explain this conclusion.
Conducting a large-scale offensive operation (with, already during the stage in which the “first strategic task” is being expedited, an attack of 300 km in depth) against the German Wehrmacht - the world’s most powerful land army –– required conducting an immense complex of interconnected steps which, in military jargon, are called “the mobilizing, concentration, and deployment of forces.” Successful, complete expedition of these steps requires quite some time. According to calculations in the Soviet command’s pre-war plans, mobilizing and concentrating forces required between eight days (for the Northern Front, that is, the Leningrad military district) to 30 days (for the Southwestern Front, that is, the Kiev regional military district). In addition, these terms refer to the situation in which railroads are switched to a special “military transportation regime”; if a peacetime schedule is maintained in order to ensure maximum secrecy (which is what happened in reality), the time needed to concentrate forces inevitably grows. In this way, the USSR’s military forces, in the case of commencing strategic deployment at the end of May, could have been fully ready for combat no earlier than the first decade of July.
It is worth comparing this chronology with how preparations for war proceeded on the other side of the future front. In December, 1940 Hitler announced to his generals, “I will give the order concerning the strategic deployment of military forces against the Soviet Union in case of necessity eight weeks prior to the appointed date of the beginning of the operation.” Hitler kept his promise about the “eight weeks”: the day the operation was to begin (June 22, 1941) was finalized and brought to the notice of the Wehrmacht’s higher command on April 30 – 52 days before the beginning of the operation. Counting these same eight weeks from the date of the meeting on May 24, we get July 19, which is quite a realistic period of time for completing all steps for the Red Army’s strategic deployment.
The middle of July, 1941 is the “lower limit” of the possible range of dates for the beginning of the strategic offensive operation against the Reich. It is not hard to determine the upper limit, taking into consideration an assessment of the natural climate conditions of the Eastern European war theater.
The main strike, as mentioned earlier, was supposed to be in the direction of Lvov-Krakow, with further development of the offensive towards Poznan-Berlin or Prague-Vienna. The scheduled duration for expediting the “primary strategic task” was estimated to be 25 to 30 days. In war, however, not everything works according to plan; in addition, after the successful expedition of the “primary task,” there should have been a subsequent deeper strike. Winter, however, comes even to southern Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary – wet and slushy, with rains, fog, and wet snow. For air force and motorized forces this is much worse than the “traditional” Russian winter with its hard frost, which transforms all travel directions into “hard surface roads” and makes lakes and rivers into icy bridges. The warm, dry weather usually remains in the southern part of Eastern Europe until October. The end of August and beginning of September can therefore be considered a transitional period, after which it would be too risky to commence a large-scale offensive in southern Poland and in the Balkans.
Detailing “Stalin’s third plan” to a greater extent will become possible only after a radical change in the volume and content of the “source base” at the disposal of historians. For now it makes sense to discuss a single, but very important, question: is it possible that the traditional version of Soviet historiography is not that far from the truth? Can it be true that “the Communist party and the Soviet government, having recognized the insidious plans of the Hitlerite aggressors at the beginning of June, 1941, started taking measures to enhance our country’s defense potential”?
No, it is not possible. The strategic deployment that started at the end of May could not in any way amount to defense-strengthening deployment. Such a categorical conclusion comes from evaluating the obvious and indisputable geographic, environmental, and climate conditions of the supposed theater. The logic and chronology here are extremely simple. The forces that commenced deployment at the end of May would finish their concentration and the formation of defense groupings no earlier than in the first ten days of July. For the purposes of conducting a strategic defense operation, that would be hopelessly late (which was in fact proven with cruel clarity on the battlefields in the summer of 1941).
It would be naïve to expect that Hitler, were he to decide to attack the USSR, would put off the invasion until the middle of the summer. It is the Red Army that could have completed its strategic task in “cramped Europe” via an offensive 300 km deep. The Soviet Union has a completely different geography and the Wehrmacht was supposed to advance a thousand and more kilometers in depth. As is known now, according to the German command’s original plan, the invasion had to begin on May 15, after the dirt roads in the European part of the USSR had completely dried out after the spring slush. But in order to be ready for the enemy’s attack on May 15, the Red Army’s strategic deployment had to commence at the beginning of April at the least. On May 24 it would have been too late to finish the deployment, not to speak of beginning preparations for it!
The Balkan campaign shuffled up Hitler’s cards and led to a five-week delay of the attack on the USSR - delay, which, according to many military specialists, and not only those among the “defeated Hitler’s generals,” had a fatal effect on the campaign’s results. It would have been complete insanity for the Germans to begin the offensive in the second half of July: even without any resistance on the part of the Red Army, the German infantry (which made up for four-fifths of the total invasion force) would have had to proceed up to their waists in snow in order to get to the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, as determined by Operation Barbarossa …
But maybe Comrade Stalin and his generals simply made a mistake? Maybe they made a mistake in their evaluation of the German command’s plans, then came to the late realization that Hitler had decided to attack the USSR already in 1941, and then, at the end of May, realizing that they were hopelessly behind, tried urgently to do what they could?
No, this hypothesis absolutely contradicts the facts. There was no “emergency procedure.” Everything was done in completely the opposite way. The Red Army’s strategic deployment was happening in the most temporally extended way, without an announcement of open mobilization (it was announced starting from June 23, which is to say a day after (!) the beginning of actual combat - an absolutely incredible situation). The troops from the border districts were advancing westward in short swamps, adhering to the strictest camouflage measures. Armies of the Second Strategic echelon were transported from the country’s inland to the frontier of the West Dvina and the Dnieper according to the peacetime railway schedule.
The latter aspect deserves particular attention. For the multimillion-strong armies of the first part of the twentieth century, railroads, railway trains, and locomotives were the most important “service arm,” one that in many ways determined the outcome of major battles in both world wars. During the Wehrmacht’s strategic deployment for Operation Barbarossa, for example, the German railways switched to a maximum military transportation schedule starting on May 23, 1941. The military transportation regime in the European part of the USSR was implemented (starting September 12, 1939) even during the stage of the Red Army’s strategic deployment before the war with a semi-destroyed Poland. In June of 1941, however, none of this was done!
Practically speaking, in May-June, 1941, the Red Army’s strategic deployment wasn’t expedited; instead, it was prolonged in every possible way. Choosing between speed of deployment and secrecy, Stalin made a definite choice in favor of secrecy. This doesn’t happen in a situation characterized by once-delayed and now urgent preparations for repelling aggression. If a man’s house starts burning, he rushes to it and tries to put out the fire, instead of crawling towards it on his belly at night, wearing camouflage. Someone who’s crawling by night wearing camouflage has a different goal – to set fire to his neighbor’s house…
Earlier we discussed Stalin’s plans. At the end of this article we will cover exclusively the matters and practical actions towards preparing the strategic offensive operation that the Red Army was supposed to begin in July-August, 1941.
On May 5, 1941 Stalin appointed himself Head of the Council of People’s Commissars – that is, the Head of the government of the USSR. That before May 5, 1941 Comrade Stalin already had absolute power hardly requires explanation. The defeat of the internal party opposition at the end of the 1920s, the reinstitution of serfdom in the villages (via collectivization and the dispossession of wealthy peasants), the Great Terror of 1937-38 – Stalin had led and implemented all these major shocks without feeling the need to formalize his actual status as sole dictator. In the same manner, until May 5, 1941, Comrade Molotov, as the nominal Head of the Council of People’s Commissars, adjusted every step and every government resolution to Stalin’s will.
So what changed at the beginning of May, 1941? Nothing changed from the point of view of the domestic policy situation in the USSR. Stalin’s self-appointment makes sense from the point of view of the hypothesis that it was exactly at the beginning of May, 1941 that he took the notorious “Main Political Decision.” At that time of major changes that were to be implemented across all Europe, Stalin desired to be a lawful head of the government and be on the same level as the President of the United States, the Japanese emperor, and the monarch of the United Kingdom…
At a June 4, 1941 meeting, the Politburo decided to “approve the formation of one rifle division consisting of Polish extract who also know the Polish language.” The term of completion for this task: July 1, 1941. Why would Stalin require a division that speaks Polish, and why so urgently – by July 1? An analogous situation, however, had already existed on November 11, 1939. At that time, 20 days prior to the Winter War with Finland, the decision was made to form the 106th Rifle Division, the staff of which consisted solely of persons who spoke Finnish.
On June 18, 1941 the Politburo makes the following decision: “Issue 750,000 automobile tires to the People’s Commissariat for Defense and have them returned to the AMSR [Administration for Mobilized State Reserves] in September. Starting from June 18 allow the People’s Commissariat for Rubber Production to stop shipment of all automobile tires to all consumers, except for the People’s Commissariats and agencies listed in Addendum 1, postponing deliveries to the fourth quarter.”
This is a very interesting document. On June 18, the Politburo has a clear understanding of the fact that in the upcoming days the People’s Commissariat for Defense will have an urgent “peak” need for automobile tires. They decided to meet that need using extraordinary measures and to cover that gap in stock and in the supply of the civil departments gradually, starting later, in September-October. What did the Politburo expect? A rain of nails flooding all the roads, or the scheduled commencement of an open mobilization within the framework of which the national economy would pass over approximately 240,000 automobiles to the Red Army?
On the threshold of the grand offensive, changing the “outdated” ideas of millions of Red Army soldiers was more important than changing worn-out tires. The widely beloved song with its lyrics “we want no inch of foreign land” was no longer of any use. New songs, with new words, images, and ideas were wanted.
On May 26, Zaporozhets, the head of the Main Administration of Political Propaganda (MAPP) of the Red Army, sent to Alexandrov (head of the Central Committee’s agitation and propaganda department), the “Draft of a section on political propaganda tasks in the Red Army for the general directive that is being prepared by the Central Committee” (the original of this note is kept in the Russian State Archive of Social-Political History). The political authorities were required to “foster among the forces a warlike and offensive spirit and a feeling of the inevitability of conflict between the Soviet Union and the capitalist world, and a permanent readiness to assume a shattering offensive.” The general conclusion was: “All forms of propaganda, agitation, and fostering of attitudes should be streamlined towards one goal: the political, moral, and battle-related preparation of manpower for conducting a fair, offensive, and overall victorious war.”
On June 4, the directives for propaganda within the army were reviewed by the Main Military Council (MMC) with the participation of Zhdanov (after Stalin, the second person of importance on the Central Committee), Malenkov (secretaries of the Central Committee) Timoshenko (the People’s Commissar for Defense), and Budennyi (the Deputy People’s Commissar for Defense). In his statement before the Main Military Council, Zhdanov declared, “We have become stronger [and] we can set more active goals. The wars with Poland and Finland were not defensive wars. We have already taken steps along the path of an offensive policy.”
On June 20, at another meeting of the MMC, the draft of the directive “About the goals of political propaganda in the Red Army in the nearest future” was finally approved. The agenda for the following Main Military Council on June 25 (they took place one after another in June) included a scheduled discussion of the MAPP directive “On propaganda among the troops and the population of the enemy.” This discussion never took place due to the German attack…
At approximately the same period, in the first days of June, 1941, Comrade Shcherbakov (First Secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee and Secretary of the Central Committee), writes a report “Concerning the state of military political propaganda.”
Shcherbakov’s instructions were plain as a pikestaff:
“Even in 1915, Lenin foresaw the possibility of an offensive policy after the consolidation of socialism in one country…Lenin saw peaceful construction and a pause from military confrontation as a means to store up power for the final battle. …’ Leninism thus teaches that the country of socialism, using a favorable international situation, should and must take the initiative of offensive military action against its capitalistic surroundings, with the goal of expanding the front of socialism.
With all the importance of the tasks pertaining to material support and propaganda, the main component of preparation for war was, of course, the strategic deployment of the military forces. It does not seem possible to name the exact day on which deployment began (at least given the current base of sources). The beautiful metaphor that V. Suvorov proposed (“the lion first crawls, for a long time and silently, towards its enemy and only in the last moment attacks it in an open leap, with a deafening roar”) best describes the situation of May-June of 1941.
The first to start moving were formations of the 16th Army and 5th Mechanized Corps stationed in remote Transbaikalia and Mongolia. On May 22, 1941 the first units were loaded into military trains, which, considering the gigantic distances and the still-maintained peacetime railway schedule, were due to arrive in Ukraine, in the region of Berdichev and Shepetovka, between June 17 and July 10. Between May 13 and May 29, other General Staff orders appeared, concerning commencement of the movement towards the western border of other three armies from the Chief Command’s reserve: the 22nd Army with July 1-3 set as the date on which the concentration would be complete; the 21st Army was to be concentrated by July 2 and the 19th Army by July 7. No earlier than June 13 the decision was made to form another, the 20th Army of the Chief Command’s reserve, based on formations of the Orel and Moscow military districts; the army was to be concentrated near Smolensk by July 3-5.
In total, under the cover of the training ‘muster’ and without announcement of open mobilization, in May-June of 1941 around 800,000 reservists were called up. Of them, at least 668,000 arrived in the army before the beginning of the war with Germany (that’s the minimum number I’ve seen).
For defense purposes it would be appropriate to urgently complete the border divisions, then to complete the divisions of the second echelon of the western districts, and only after that, with God’s help, and if there is time, to start mobilizing the Second Strategic Echelon.
The Red Army, however, was deploying not for defense, but to effect a sudden strike, in the interests of which all steps were submitted to the goal of ensuring maximum reticence and secrecy. That’s exactly why the actions most indicative of the strategic plan – mobilizing the first echelon of the districts/fronts and their concentration and deployment on the border, where the German intelligence could have been alarmed by it– were postponed to the very end of the process; the beginning of this process took place in the deepest rear with the transfer of the Chief Command’s reserve (Second Strategic Echelon) armies forward towards the frontier of the Western Dvina River and the Dnieper River.
Only when hundreds of special trains were gliding along the rails in the middle of June, 1941 did the troops of the second echelon of the border districts also began to move – again, it was done in a reverse order. Between June 12 and June 15, the western district command received orders to move “remote divisions” closer to the state border. The deadline for completing the regrouping was July 1.
For purposes of secrecy, the troops were to move only at night.
Right before the war, 32 western district's divisions secretly crept towards the border by night marches through the forests and swamps.
The troops of the first echelon (that is, the one closest to the border) of the western military districts did not succeed in mobilizing or in taking the regions designated for their deployment by June 22; their turn never came…
Remaining doubts concerning the offensive nature of the strategic deployment vanish once you plot on a map the location of the Red Army’s main strike force – the mechanized (that is, tank) corps.
Thanks to the foresightedly drawn “line of demarcation of the state interests of the USSR and Germany on the territory of the former Polish state” this “line” had two deep (120-170 km) projections, the “tips” of which were turned westward. If the Red Army were planning to establish a defense, then minimal coverage forces should have been left on these “tip projections”; the main defensive groupings should have been deployed on the basis of the Belostok and Lvov projections. This arrangement would have allowed for avoiding the encirclement of Soviet troops on the territories of those projections and for shortening the general length of the defensive front (the length of the base of a triangle is always shorter than the sum of the two other sides). The mechanized corps, as a means for inflicting a victorious counterstrike on an enemy, that is penetrating into the depth of the defense, should have been concentrated further to the east, approximately at the level of the “old” border, circa 1939.
In June of 1941 everything was done in completely the opposite way. Almost all the mechanized corps were deployed westward of the 1939 border. Four of the Red Army’s most powerful mechanized corps (the 6th, 4th, 8th and 15th), which outnumbered all the other 27 corps in terms of having “new type” tanks (that is, the T-34 and KV), were crowded at the very tips of the projections.
From June 14 through June 19, the border district command received an order to move the Front administration ("Front" was the largest troop formation, the Soviet equivalent of German Armies Group) to the field command post by June 22-23. A June 19 telegram from the Head of the General Staff to the Commander of the forces of the Kiev SMD stated the following: “by 22.06.1941 the administration is ordered to head to Ternopol, leaving in Kiev the district administration subordinate to you ….the apportionment and redeployment of the Front must be kept strictly secret.”
At 16:45 on June 21, Major General P. Klenov, chief of staff of the Northwestern Front (which was deployed on the basis of the Baltic Special Military District, signed the document. The following instruction was passed to all the heads of the staff departments:
“Some staffs of the units and departments of the district administration have in documents and conversations used the word ‘FRONT,’ the Northwestern Front, etc., by which they disclose the location and presence of the front command. Immediately stop this phenomenon and henceforth call both the headquarters and the administrations the Baltic SMD.”
The document quoted above is extremely important. It shows that the meaning and importance of the Front deployment was quite apparent to the commanders involved in it; they had a clear understanding of what it meant. Deploying Fronts, creating front commands, and taking these command out to field command posts means war. During peacetime, no Fronts were created within the Red Army structure (the Far East Front deployed at the beginning of the 1930s was an exception that proves the rule: the border with Japanese-occupied China was constantly breaking out in armed conflicts large and small). And, from the opposite perspective, Front administrations were created each time right before each new offensive (on September 11, 1939 – six days prior to the war with Poland; on June 9, 1940 – 19 days before the “campaign to force Romania” to hand over Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina).
How many days were left between June 19 and the scheduled beginning of the grandiose offensive operation? We will be able to answer this question only after the database available to historians is radically expanded. The most important thing, however, is already known for certain today: neither of Stalin’s three plans was implemented.
On June 22, 1941 those Red Army forces, which had not completed their deployment and did not have time to build either the planned offensive or improvised defensive groupings, were subject to shattering attack and defeated part by part. Only the immense sizes of those “units,” their colossal human resources (in the second half of 1941, 11,790,000 people were drafted into the Red Army), the cyclopean heaps of arms collected in the pre-war years, the powerful defense industry that was geographically inaccessible to Luftwaffe, allowed for avoiding complete and final defeat.